The Minnesota Timberwolves, having lost point guard Ricky Rubio to a torn ACL and forward Kevin Love to a broken hand sustained while doing knuckle push ups — that's true, by the way — are a team that is merely treading water, trying to remain afloat until their stars can rescue them. Well, they were supposed to be, anyway.
Then they came out and started the season 4-1.
It's not necessarily a fluke, either. They beat the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn before they took down the Indiana Pacers. They also beat the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic, two of the three teams the Bulls have beaten this year. Furthermore, they won those two games by 12 and 15 points, respectively, while the Bulls won their games by six points in each case.
However, the Bulls come in with the superior point differential, thanks to a shellacking of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the fact that their losses have been by single digits. Three of Minnesota's four wins were by double digits, but a 19 point loss to the Toronto Raptors really hurts them from that perspective.
On paper, the Bulls and Timberwolves are extremely even. Kirk Hinrich and Luke Ridnour are probably a wash, as are Rip Hamilton and Brandon Roy at this point in their respective careers. Carlos Boozer and Derrick Williams can't guard each other, so we'll call them a wash, and while Joakim Noah is more mobile than Nikola Pekovic, Pekovic is much stronger. They're pretty much a wash too. I'd take Noah, but it'll be a hell of a battle.
That brings us to…
Key Matchup: Andrei Kirilenko vs. Luol Deng
Kirilenko, fresh off a year of playing in Russia, is having a heck of a five-game renaissance in Minnesota. He's a guy who will fill the box score — Kirilenko's as good a bet as any for the next NBA player to record a 5×5 — play solid to excellent defense, rebound the ball, make plays when needed and make open shots.
Luol Deng, while a capable scorer, rebounder, and passer, does none of those things at a particularly high level. He is, of course, one of the top defenders in the league, but Kirilenko might be a better player overall. At the very least, you could make that case.
This game will probably come down to which small forward plays better, unless one of the other guys on the court significantly outplays his counterpart, which is certainly possible.
Bonus Fun Matchup: JJ Barea v. Nate Robinson
It's the battle of the midget point guards! Don't tell me you aren't excited for this.
Probable Starting FivesAndrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Derrick Williams, Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, Luol Deng, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, Ricky Rubio